As Christmas bells are now starting to ring
Utah’s major sports are on the upswing
It is a great time to be a Ute fan
As life on The Hill is certainly grand
COMMENTARY — Let’s be honest, just like virtually every other college campus across America, when it comes to sports, football and men’s basketball rule the roost at Utah. Much to the delight of Ute fans, for the first time in a long time, both of these programs are starting to thrive side-by-side.
The 22nd ranked football team plays Colorado State in the Royal Purple Las Vegas Bowl on Saturday, Dec. 20, with a 1:30 p.m. MT kickoff. I fully expect Utah to win that game. I also think the red-green match-up is very appropriate for a game played the weekend before Christmas.
The Runnin’ Utes also play in Las Vegas on Saturday, Dec. 20, with a 9:30 p.m. MT tipoff against UNLV as part of the MGM Grand Showcase. Utah is currently 9-2, and ranked 14th in the nation.
Notably, the Runnin’ Utes have proven they can play with anybody, having only lost to San Diego State by four points on the road, and to Kansas by three points on the road. In particular, Kansas held a 21-point lead midway through the game, but Utah battled back and took the lead with just under four minutes to play in the game. Although the Runnin’ Utes ultimately came up short, they showed a lot of resilience and heart in playing to the very end.
In the past few years, Utah has struggled to win road games. The Runnin’ Utes are currently 1-2 on the road. The sole road win thus far has been a 65-61 victory over BYU last Wednesday.
While there was some chatter leading up to the Utah-BYU basketball game last week, I am surprised at how low this game flew under the radar as the prime match-up in the rivalry since the football teams did not play this year.
Personally, I think there are two primary reasons you haven’t heard as much about the rivalry this year. First, there are fewer opportunities for the two schools to play each other. Second, these two programs are simply headed in different directions.
I have made no secret of my displeasure over Utah introducing a two-year hiatus in scheduling BYU in football. With no rivalry football game this year, there was much less for fans to get worked up about. Although the two schools have continued to play each other each year in basketball, what used to be an annual home-and-home hardwood series in conference play has been watered down to a single game each year..
Even though Utah and BYU are no longer in the same conference, I still think it would be a good thing to keep the rivalry alive. When the Utes were struggling in making the transition to Pac-12 play, the fans could still take pride in a win over the Cougars, having beaten BYU four years in a row before Dr. Hill imposed the hiatus. I saw a similar feeling in the Marriott Center last week as Cougar nation was reaching out for what they hoped was a win over a ranked Utah team in order to give BYU fans something to feel good about. However, the Cougar hoopsters came up short, and Utah’s celebration on BYU’s court for its second win over the Cougars in as many tries was somewhat symbolic of the direction these two programs currently appear to be headed.
Over the years, Utah and BYU have each had their turn in the limelight in both football and basketball. Quite often, end of the season match-ups between these two schools carried implications for a conference championship. When the Utes joined the Pac-12, and the Cougars went independent in football and joined the West Coast Conference for everything else, I thought the two programs were still relatively close. I don’t think that is the case anymore.
Again, football and men’s basketball are the kings when it comes to college sports. It appears that both Utah’s football and basketball teams are on the rise, while it appears that both BYU’s football and basketball teams are on the decline. Looking at the returners and recruits for each school next year, I believe that trend will only continue.
Even when you look at the other sports, you can see somewhat of a similar trend. There are some sports that Utah sponsors that BYU does not, and vice-versa, and there are some sports which both schools play that do not have true head-to-head competition (like track and field and golf). But there are 10 other sports in which both schools field teams that play each other head-to-head. In looking back over the years since Utah joined the Pac-12, the Utes have dominated four of those sports, while the Cougars hold an edge in four of those sports, and two of the sports are a push.
Utah has a decisive advantage over BYU in women’s gymnastics, having beaten BYU for 16 straight years dating back to 1999 (and that streak likely extends even further but I could not find any archives older than 1999 that were readily accessible). The women’s tennis team has beaten the Cougars three years running, while both the women’s and men’s swimming and diving teams are 2-1 against BYU (with both Utah teams winning the last two competitions).
Admittedly, BYU does hold an advantage in women’s volleyball, having beaten Utah four straight times. The Cougars also have the edge in baseball (with a 6-3 record against the Utes), in women’s basketball (with a 3-1 record), and in men’s tennis (at 2-1, although Utah won the last match-up).
Women’s soccer and softball are each a push as the schools have even head-to-head records in those sports.
In other words, in other sports exclusive of football and men’s basketball, the scales between Utah and BYU are relatively balanced (although I could argue the Red Rocks’ gymnastics dynasty gives Utah the edge). And when you come back to football and men’s basketball, the Utes have the overall advantage.
It certainly is a great time to be a Utah fan! Here’s to more good times to follow, starting with the football and basketball doubleheader in Las Vegas on Saturday.
Dwayne Vance is a columnist covering the Utah Utes. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. George News.
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